Friday, July 2, 2010

Research your audience before you use a quotation

A well chosen quotation can inspire your audience with borrowed brilliance. But, an inappropriate quotation can annoy or enrage your audience. Know before who you stand.

In late May, Leslie Linevsky blogged about how a keynote speaker blundered by quoting Henry Ford at the annual installation of officers for a Jewish philanthropic organization. Ford was well known for his anti-Semitic views, and was revered by Hitler. Back in the 1920s Ford owned a newspaper called the Dearborn Independent which spewed such notoriously vile propaganda that it was successfully sued for libel. Ford was admirable in some other respects. He preserved a lot of American history in his museum.

Thirty years ago in his book Speechwriting: The Master Touch Joseph J. Kelley mentioned another occasion where a group had a long memory. He was preparing a speech to be given in a Pennsylvania mining town, knew there were many members of the state police from there, and asked his client if he should mention them. His client said to avoid that topic. Almost a century earlier the state police had been derived from the coal mine police. Back then there had been bitter conflict between those police and labor, particularly the Molly Maguires. At least one descendant was still trying to get a posthumous pardon for an executed ancestor.

1 comment:

Leslie Linevsky said...

I am flattered by the reference to my original post. I have heard a few speeches where the topic or quotes were just a bit - or a lot - off. I have empathy for the speakers, but I always learn from other's mistakes - research, research, research!